The Arab World’s Saddening Relationship with Honour Killings

by Douaa Qadadia
Image: Brett Jordan / Unsplash

“You must preserve our honour and family name.” That is the message that Arab girls constantly hold in their mind as they live their everyday lives. The way you dress, talk, act, and look are all under a microscope. Should I be talking to them? Should I post that on Instagram? What will people say? 

The Arab world has a very strong culture of shame. Shame cultures are typically based on the concepts of pride and honour. In these cultures, individuals believe that reputation is one of the most important things to maintain, and often their actions are influenced by this mentality. The fusion of this ‘shame’ culture along with the patriarchal concepts that our society still grasps onto, has extremely disastrous consequences for girls and women living in the MENA region. One such consequence is honour killings. 

“…at least 5000 women are victims of honor killings each year…”

What is an ‘honour killing’?

An honour killing is the murder of a girl/woman by male family members. They often justify these murders by alleging that the victim had brought shame to the family name. In such societies, a woman’s purity is often seen as the responsibility of male family members, such as fathers and brothers. Actions that can bring shame to the family name can range anywhere from openly talking to a man that is not in the family to adultery. Even women who have been raped or sexually assaulted can be victims of honour killings, as the victim is now viewed as “impure.” If a woman is suspected to be in a situation that can harm the family name and reputation, regardless of whether it’s true or not, she may fall victim to an honour killing. This outdated viewpoint endangers many Arab women every day resulting in these alarming numbers: according to The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) ,globally at least 5000 women are victims of honor killings each year, with that estimate being considered conservative.

Honour killings: are they legal?

In a lot of Middle Eastern and North African countries, there is a reduced sentence for murders committed for ‘honour.’ In some cases, there may not be a punishment at all. This can be tied to a family’s reluctance to report the crime, as to not attract attention to the victim of the femicide. According to the Honour Based Violence (HBV) Awareness Network, the Middle East, including the Arab countries of North Africa, Iran and non-Arab minorities within Arabic countries have high recorded levels of HBV, and it is in these regions that the formal law codes are most likely to allocate reduced sentences for crimes motivated by ‘honour.’ 

Are honour killings motivated by Islam?

No. There is not a SINGLE mention of honour killings in the Quran or the Hadiths. This practice directly goes against Islamic law. The fact of the matter is that this practice is mainly cultural, and is the result of a misogynistic mindset that the Arab world has not grown out of and their society’s emphasis on shame. Anyone who tries to blame Islam for this has no knowledge of the values and ethics that Islam promotes, and should not be taken seriously. 

How Do We Combat This? 

In September 2020, the United Arab Emirates rewrote a law for honour killings to hold a stricter penalty for the murderers, which previously carried reduced punishments of between three and 15 years in prison. In the future, those convicted will face life imprisonment or the death penalty. This breakthrough is the hope that the Arab world needs to advance towards a future of egalitarianism and humanity. Only when other Arab countries make this same progress and development will our society be able to phase out this barbaric practice. Furthermore, as society becomes more progressive, our culture must end our overmagnified and inflated emphasis on how they are perceived in society and place more attention on maintaining our true Arabic and Islamic morals and values of love, generosity, honesty, and patience.  

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